Eucom Chief: NATO, European Partners Remain Critical
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 19, 2013 The commander of U.S. European Command emphasized to Congress today the importance of the region to future U.S. interests.
Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, who also serves as NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the importance of maintaining U.S. connections in Europe.
“I think that, as I look at the challenges for U.S. European Command, where I am focused at the moment is, first and foremost, our work in and around Europe,” he said.
This includes the NATO missile defense system that is coming online, Stavridis said.
“We are, of course, monitoring the situation in the Levant extremely closely,” he said. “It's very close at hand to Europe, and part of U.S. European Command's responsibility includes military-to-military relations with Israel. So we watch that area very closely.”
Stavridis mentioned other countries that fall within his area of responsibility that aren’t as frequently discussed.
“We don't talk as much about areas like the Balkans, the Caucusus, the Baltics,” he noted. “All of those remain extremely important as well, and … there are a wide variety of other issues, from special operations to humanitarian, disasters, countering terrorism, organized crime [and] cyber. So it's a very rich agenda.”
The admiral said if he had one overriding message for the committee, he’d like to answer the question, ‘Why Europe?’”
“Why should we continue to be engaged in Europe?” Stavridis asked. “What's important about this part of the mission for the Department of Defense? I would say very quickly that, first and foremost, it's the values that we share with this pool of partners in Europe, democracies who stand with us on freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press.
“Secondly, it's the economic bonds that bind us together,” Stavridis continued. “The United States represents about a fourth of the world's gross domestic product. The nations of Europe represent another fourth.”
NATO, he added, cumulatively is about 50 percent of the world's gross domestic product. “So I think that trans-Atlantic connection has an important economic component as well,” he said.
The admiral said his third reason for the U.S. staying connected with its European partners is that “geography matters.”
“People say to me, ‘Why do we need bases in Europe? They’re just bastions of the Cold War,’” Stavridis said. “I would counter by saying that they're not. They're forward operating bases in the 21st century. And they allow us to extend support from Eucom to [U.S. Africa Command], to [U.S. Central Command] and the Levant area as well.”
To put perspective on it, Stavridis said, about 20 or so years ago, during the Cold War, the United States had 450,000 troops in Europe on 1,200 bases.
“We’ve come down 85 percent since then,” he said. “So we have taken a great deal of infrastructure out of Europe.”
Stavridis said the U.S. conceivably could, over time, draw down a bit further. “I feel we’re positioned about right for the moment in time in which we find ourselves,” he said. “But I believe that downward trajectory over time will probably continue.”
The admiral said the NATO alliance is another reason for maintaining European connections. “We serve together around the world in a wide variety of missions that we can talk about this morning,” Stavridis said, adding that nowhere else in the world offers such a complete and capable group of allies who have the technology, training and force levels to help the United States.
“We need to encourage our European partners to spend more on defense,” Stavridis said. “I do that consistently.”